Hong Kong police fire tear gas as clashes return to city streets

Hong Kong police fire tear gas as clashes return to city streets

Riot police fire tear gas rounds against protesters at Kowloon Bay in Hong Kong
Riot police fire tear gas rounds against protesters at Kowloon Bay in Hong Kong, Aug 24, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha)

HONG KONG: Hong Kong riot police on Saturday (Aug 24) fired tear gas and baton-charged protesters who retaliated with a barrage of stones, bottles and bamboo poles, as a standoff in a working-class district descended into violence.

It was the first use of tear gas in about 10 days amid protests that have persisted for nearly three months.

An uneasy peace had descended this week but that was broken on Saturday as thousands of demonstrators - many wearing hard hats and gas masks - marched through the industrial Kwun Tong area, where they were blocked by dozens of officers with shields and batons outside a police station.

READ: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

Frontline protesters pulled together a barricade of traffic barriers and bamboo construction poles, spray-painting walls with insults directed at the police.

As the afternoon wore on some fired stones from slingshots, prompting a charge from police wielding batons and pepper spray.

Tear gas swept across the road as protesters retreated, leaving a trail of broken bottles and at least one small fire in their wake.

Several of the black-clad protesters were detained as officers swept through, with police justifying their charge on "a large group of violent protesters" who had set fires and hurled bricks at.

READ: 'Too scared to buy ice cream for my son': Hong Kong protests leave some residents looking for an exit

Protesters react to tear gas fired by police at Kowloon Bay in Hong Kong
Protesters react to tear gas fired by police at Kowloon Bay in Hong Kong. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

The city had appeared to have pulled back from a sharp nosedive into violence, with the last serious clashes taking place a week and a half ago just after protests paralysed the financial hub's airport.

Tension flickered throughout Saturday's march, where dozens of the most radical demonstrators known as "braves" had gathered, battle-hardened by the street campaign that has lasted several months.

READ: Skin in the game: Hong Kong protesters get inked

Protesters build barriers as they block a road in Hong Kong's Kowloon Bay
Protesters build barriers as they block a road in Hong Kong's Kowloon Bay, Aug 24, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Lillian Suwanrumpha)

"I understand being peaceful will not solve the problem," 19-year-old student protester Ryan told AFP, giving one name.

"The government won't respond to peaceful protest. If I am arrested it is because I come out to speak for justice."

Hundreds of thousands marched peacefully last Sunday, as a key protest group sought to regain the moral high ground in a city shocked at the level of violence.

READ: Hong Kong's 'borrowed time' - worry about 2047 hangs over protests

Police arrest a protester at Kowloon Bay in Hong Kong's Kwun Tong
Police arrest a protester at Kowloon Bay in Hong Kong's Kwun Tong district, Aug 24, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Philip Fong)

But Saturday's face-off underscored the dangerous deadlock into which the city has sunk - with the government unmoving in the face of protester demands, and demonstrators stubbornly refusing to leave the streets.

China has used a blend of intimidation, propaganda and economic muscle to constrict the protests in a strategy dubbed "white terror" by the movement.

Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific has sacked staff over their political activities, while the MTR - the city's metro operator - has been pilloried for closing stations after Chinese state-media accused it of offering an 'exclusive' transport service to protesters.

READ: UK warns China travellers of greater checks on Hong Kong-mainland border

Tension spikes in Hong Kong as police square off with protesters
Protesters march from Kwun Tong to Kowloon Bay in Hong Kong, Aug 24, 2019. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

"NO FUTURE"

Protesters say Hong Kong's unique freedoms are in jeopardy as Beijing tightens its political chokehold on the city.

Soaring living costs and few job opportunities have also driven many of the mainly young protesters to the streets.

Hong Kong's police force have become the target of the protesters' ire for their perceived heavy-handed response to the months of demonstrations.

As evening fell, scores of "braves" dug up bricks and tied metal barriers together a few hundred metres from the police as they appeared to dig in for more clashes.

One frontline protester explained his motivation for joining the street struggle.

"The government chose not to solve the problem through communicating with the protesters," Lueng told AFP.

"I don't see our future facing this regime, so gradually I stepped closer and closer to the front line."

Older Hong Kongers are divided on the motivation and tactics of the movement which has brought unprecedented chaos to a city once known for its safety and stability.

"The youngsters who come out have put their future at stake ... they are doing this for Hong Kong," 65-year-old Dee Cheung told AFP earlier, before explaining why he joined the protests.

"There might be some things we don't agree with, like the 'braves' who tend to charge. But let's think about why they do that?"

Source: Agencies/zl

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